Sunday, May 10, 2015

Miss Mend (1926) is on tonight

TCM's Mothers' Day lineup only extends to midnight, with the last of the films being Mildred Pierce: what would Mothers' Day on TCM be without Joan Crawford smakcing Ann Blyth or seeing her second husband's dead body in that lovely beach house? Silent Sunday Nights has nothing to do with Mothers' Day, instead showing the long Soviet movie Miss Mend at 12:15 AM.

The reason it's so long (a little over four hours) is that when it was originally filmed, it was conceived as a three-part serial, which would make each part in the 80-minute range, which is certainly manageable. For whatever reason, it's wound up all in one part. I have to admit to only having seen bits and pieces from the various TCM airings, but what I've seen is interesting. This Soviet movie deals with... Americans. As with No Orchids for Miss Blandish from the UK 20 years later, or Purple Noon another dozen years after that, it's interesting to see how foreign films portray Americans when they're using non-American actors. For somebody like me who studied Russian in college and spent a term in St. Petersburg, it's interesting to see the city as it was in 1926.

As for the plot, it involves a bunch of American newspaper workers led by the virtuous Miss Mend, who learn that their boss is working on some kind of weapon of mass destruction -- not that they used that term back in the day, of course. Specifically, is a bacteriological weapon, and the boss is planning to use that weapon against the Soviet Union! We can't just have that happen, now, can we? So our hero Miss Mend and her colleagues go over to the USSR to stop their boss.

In Soviet history, 1926 was in that period just after the death of Lenin (who died in early 1924 after being ill from a series of strokes for some time) and just before Stalin would consolidate his power. The situation in the country was, if not free, then certainly a lot freer than it would become in a few short years. The New Economic Policy, which brought some freer-market ideas to the USSR because that was the only way they could feed the people at the end of the Russian Civil War, was still in force, and there were still vestiges of avant-garde art. Propaganda and socialist realism would only become the more heavy-handed stuff we expect from Soviet art in later years.

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